In the USA...Violence Against Women Act: Eric Cantor, Joe Biden In Talks Amid Stalled Tribal Provision
Posted: 12/06/2012 5:18 pm EST | Updated: 12/10/2012 9:42 am EST
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden is quietly working with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to try to pass an inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act in the lame-duck Congress. And so far, sources tell HuffPost, Cantor is on board as long as one thing is stripped from the bill: a key protection for Native American women.
Staffers for Biden and Cantor have been trying to reach a deal on the bill for at least a week. Neither camp publicly let on it was talking to the other until Wednesday, when Cantor said the two are in negotiations and he's feeling hopeful about a deal.
"I am speaking with the vice president and his office and trying to resolve the issue of the differences surrounding the VAWA bill," Cantor said during remarks on the House floor.
"This week I've actually been encouraged to see that we could very well see agreement on VAWA, and I'm very hopeful that that comes about. But I am encouraged about the discussions that my office is having with the vice president's office right now, that bill being a high priority of Vice President Biden."
VAWA, which has been reauthorized consistently for 18 years with little fanfare, was, for the first time, left to expire in Sept. 2011. The sticking point has been new protections for three particularly vulnerable groups: undocumented immigrants, members of the LGBT community and Native Americans. The additions are supported by Democrats and opposed by House Republicans, who are calling them politically driven. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April with the additional protections, and House Republicans passed their own bill in May that omitted those three provisions. Since then, the issue has gone nowhere.
The fact that Cantor is working directly with Biden, an original sponsor of the 1994 law and a strong supporter of the Senate bill, suggests a real possibility that something could advance in the final weeks of a Congress otherwise consumed by a major tax fight. And now that the elections are over -- and the GOP received the message that they need to do a better job of appealing to women and minorities -- House Republicans may be more inclined to support the more inclusive bill.
But two sources familiar with negotiations on VAWA, both of whom requested anonymity given the sensitive nature of talks, have told HuffPost that Cantor is refusing to accept any added protections for Native American women that would give expanded jurisdiction to tribes, and is pressuring Democrats to concede on that front. There does seem to be room to negotiate with Cantor on the other two provisions relating to LGBT and undocumented immigrant protections, the sources say.
Asked to confirm if this is the current state of play in VAWA talks, a Cantor spokesman said only, "Your source is mistaken."
Later, the Cantor spokesman said in a statement, "Majority Leader Cantor and the Vice President have had a conversation seeking to find a solution. Since then, we have continued to work with the Vice President's staff, as well as Senate Democratic staff to work on a solution that gets to the root of the problem, namely, violence against women. Our staffs continue to work towards a compromise on those multiple provisions outstanding in the hopes of finding a solution."
A White House official did not respond to a request for comment on the tribal provision but confirmed that Biden is "talking to both the Senate and House about trying to get [VAWA] done if possible."
Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the author of the Senate VAWA bill, went to the Senate floor on Thursday and plainly announced that House Republican leaders are blocking his bill "because of their objections to [the] ... tribal provision."
Leahy explained the provision, probably the least understood of the three additions in the Senate bill: It gives tribal courts limited jurisdiction to oversee domestic violence offenses committed against Native American women by non-Native American men on tribal lands. Currently, federal and state law enforcement have jurisdiction over domestic violence on tribal lands, but in many cases, they are hours away and lack the resources to respond to those cases. Tribal courts, meanwhile, are on site and familiar with tribal laws, but lack the jurisdiction to address domestic violence on tribal lands when it is carried out by a non-Native American individual.
That means non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on tribal lands are essentially "immune from the law, and they know it," Leahy said.
The standoff over including VAWA protections for Native American women comes at a time of appallingly high levels of violence on tribal lands. One in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape, the New York Times reported in March, and the rate of sexual assault on Native American women is more than twice the national average. President Barack Obama has called violence on tribal lands "an affront to our shared humanity."
Of the Native American women who are raped, 86 percent of them are raped by non-Native men, according to an Amnesty International report. That statistic is precisely what the Senate's tribal provision targets.
The two sources say, to Cantor's credit, his staff has said they're willing to try to come up with other solutions to responding to violence against women on tribal lands, as long as the solution doesn't give tribes jurisdiction over the matter. But proponents of the Senate bill see the limited jurisdictional change as the only realistic way to address the problem.
Some House Republicans do support giving tribes that limited jurisdictional authority and have put forward a solution of their own. Earlier this week, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) introduced a bill that has the same jurisdictional language for tribes as the Senate bill, but would also allow the defendant to move his case to a federal court if he feels his rights were violated in a tribal court. As a standalone bill that wades into complex jurisdictional laws, though, even Issa told HuffPost last week that the bill has little chance of passing in the lame duck.
Cantor's insistence on keeping the tribal jurisdictional provision out of VAWA has infuriated some backers of the Senate bill and elicited vows to prevent any VAWA bill from advancing that doesn't protect all victims of abuse. Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women and someone who regularly talks to people directly involved in VAWA negotiations, called Cantor's stance "completely outrageous."
"Who is Eric Cantor to say that it's okay for some women to get beaten and raped?" O'Neill said. "If they happen to be Native women who are attacked by a non-Native man, as far as Eric Cantor is concerned, those women are tossed."
O'Neill's incendiary and extreme charge highlights the intense passion that has engulfed the negotiations around the bill.
The NOW president said she didn't know why the GOP leader was so opposed to keeping the provision, since it has the backing of the Justice Department. She said any concerns about constitutional laws being circumvented on tribal lands have already been vetted. Regardless, she said she doesn't expect the White House or Democratic lawmakers to cave on the provision.
"We are not going to leave behind sisters who have been brutally raped," O'Neill said.
click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kV-8Cc2LeyQ
*********Obama’s corporate charm offensive: Wooing the Republicans’ beloved base
By Heidi Moore, The Guardian
Monday, December 10, 2012 22:47 EST
Two years ago, Bloomberg ran a survey of American investors. Three-quarters of them believed Obama was against business. Ivan Seidenberg, the CEO of Verizon, was moved to declare the president hostile to investment and job creation.
Today, it’s a different picture. The president, after blasting fat cats and the self-interest of Wall Street for years, has made a landmark move in his relationship with companies: he is taking corporate donations to fund the parade and parties of his second inauguration. Someone has to pay for the party, so you might as well invite the people with money.
Granted, it’s an uneasy detente: Obama’s team made it clear that it is only accepting the filthy lucre of corporate America because their old donors are tapped out. And there’s an arm’s length aspect, too: the Obama campaign is warily posting the names of all donors on the web, and it won’t accept sponsorships of any kind or donations from lobbyists.
Still, what a turnaround. If you add the inauguration pivot to the president’s other recent contacts with the business world, you get something that looks almost like friendliness.
In the past few weeks, the president has called the members of the Business Roundtable “patriots.” He seemed to renounce his previously disdainful stance toward CEOs, saying: “I realize in the first four years my relationship with the business community was skewed.” He even told Bloomberg TV: “There’s a lot of confluence between my agenda and the business community’s,” which makes one think: really? When did that happen?
Add to that the fact that the White House has an open door for the pinstriped suits of Wall Street financiers and corporate CEOs if they want to talk about the fiscal cliff. It’s so comfortable between the White House and CEOs that watchdogs are worried, in fact, that the president is ceding too much power to corporate interests.
What happened to the old bile, on both sides? Shrug and call it bygones.
That leaves the question: are these approaches and blandishments the tentative beginnings of a new pragmatism emerging in Obama’s relations with business leaders?
It looks that way. The president used to be criticized by his Republican adversaries as having a “glass jaw.” He was relatively new and sensitive to the low blows and body slams of partisan politics. But his management of the fiscal cliff discussions, so far, show that he may be finally learning some good old-fashioned Washington jiu jitsu.
There is no better way to drive a stake in Republican negotiators on the fiscal cliff than to woo their most beloved base: the business community. Obama has recognized that, when it comes to the fiscal cliff, the rift between him and corporate leaders is shallower than that between him and Republicans.
The calculus is clear: Obama’s single-minded, most often-stated goal in the ongoing debt debacle is to raise taxes on the top 2% of earners. Republican leaders draw a hard line against that proposal. CEOs – surprise! – aren’t so resistant. This is where Obama is trying to drive a wedge between corporate leaders and the Republican leadership.
It’s not as if he has to pound that wedge very hard. Business leaders desperately want to be wooed by Obama; they have spent an unaccustomed time wandering in the political cold as the financial crisis, recession and weak recovery weakened their negotiating position.
In October, about 80 CEOs of major companies – backed by the fiscal cliff duo of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles – tried to send a love letter to Obama. They agreed that “higher revenue” has to be a part of a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff. In Washington patois, “higher revenue” means higher taxes. That armed Obama admirably to start reaching out to Wall Street and corporate America: if business leaders are willing to pay higher taxes, after all, why are Republican leaders still refusing? These CEOs wafting through the White House provide Obama with a valuable bargaining chip.
Like all Washington power plays, this one has complications. Obama needs business leaders to help him win the fight on the fiscal cliff – but it doesn’t help his image with his die-hard fans. Those voters who support Obama and are still angry with Wall Street after the financial crisis may regard this new partnership with complicated feelings.
The support of those CEOs doesn’t come without strings: those business leaders don’t love Obama’s economic policies, nor are they for raising taxes willy-nilly. Instead, they largely like the Simpson-Bowles plan, which cuts programs like Social Security and Medicare. The President opposes any cuts to those programs.
Over time, those business leaders will also want to bend the president’s ear for a greater purpose: they will want tax breaks not for themselves – they can handle that with savvy accountants – but for their companies.
Many corporate leaders support the idea of a tax holiday that would allow them to bring back cash currently trapped in their overseas divisions. They promise that this cash, once “repatriated,” would go into the economy. It’s a hard sell: that tax holiday was tried once, and the corporations just kept the extra cash for themselves.
This big thaw between Obama and CEOs may also freeze up after the CEOs cease to be useful to the president. As many CEOs could have learned over the past four years, any line to the White House is better than a closed line. They just have to see whether they can hold his attention for the next four years.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
December 10, 2012Obama, With Blue-Collar Backdrop, Pushes for Higher Taxes on the Richest
By MARK LANDLER
REDFORD, Mich. — Using a German-owned truck factory as a grease-stained backdrop, President Obama on Monday pressed his case for higher tax rates for the richest Americans, declaring that his economic program would cut the deficit without crimping the job market.
“Our economic success has never come from the top down,” Mr. Obama said to a few hundred cheering autoworkers. “It comes from the middle out; it comes from the bottom up.”
A day after the president and the House speaker, John A. Boehner, held face-to-face budget talks at the White House, Mr. Obama took his case again to the American public — a tactic he has used repeatedly to go around reluctant party leaders in Congress.
This time, he chose a nearly 75-year-old truck engine maker, where the owner, the German company Daimler, announced $120 million in investments in new production that will create 115 jobs.
In a speech replete with the cadences of his late-inning campaign swings, Mr. Obama ratcheted up the pressure on Republicans, who are still resisting his call for higher tax rates on income above $250,000 a year, three weeks before a deadline that could set off across-the-board tax increases and automatic spending cuts.
Under his plan, Mr. Obama said, taxes would not increase for 98 percent of Americans, and even those whose taxes would rise would not be taxed at a higher rate on their first $250,000 of income. But fairness, he said, demanded that those earning much more pay a greater share.
“I’m not going to have a situation where the wealthiest among us, including folks like me, get to keep all our tax breaks, and then we’re asking students to pay higher student loans,” he said.
The White House is also cranking up the machinery of the Obama campaign to help in the battle. On Monday, the campaign sent an e-mail to its entire mailing list from its deputy manager, Stephanie Cutter, urging supporters in Republican districts to press their representative to agree to the mix of higher tax rates and spending cuts offered by Mr. Obama.
“Who will decide if your taxes increase in just 22 days?” Ms. Cutter said. “A few dozen members of the House of Representatives, that’s who.” A spokeswoman, Katie Hogan, said that the campaign had sent updates to supporters about the fiscal negotiations a few times since the election, but that this one was unusual for its wide distribution.
In Mr. Obama’s first visit to Michigan since the election, he still seemed to be in election mode, presenting the fiscal debate as a choice about what kind of future America will have. But he skipped partisan attacks on the Republicans and devoted much of his remarks to extolling Detroit Diesel as an example of how the country can rebound.
Daimler, which owns Detroit Diesel, will invest in new equipment to make truck engines, axles, and transmissions on a single site at the sprawling factory in this suburb of Detroit. That will improve the integration of its components, said Mr. Obama, who took a tour of the plant floor and watched a demonstration of pistons being inserted into an engine.
Detroit Diesel, a manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks, traces its roots to 1938. It was sold to Daimler in 2000, after Daimler had acquired Chrysler. The company remained part of Daimler after it sold off Chrysler, amid heavy losses, to a private equity firm in 2007. The carmaker was rescued in a bailout by the Obama administration.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said Daimler’s up-and-down history in Detroit was less of an issue for Mr. Obama than what it was doing now. “He’s focused on the present and future,” Mr. Carney said to reporters on Air Force One.
Indeed, Mr. Obama praised Daimler as a company that was willing to invest in manufacturing in the United States.
“For a long time companies, they weren’t always making those kinds of investments here in the United States,” he said, “They certainly weren’t willing to make them in the U.S. automotive industry.”
If the factory attested to Detroit’s brightening future, Mr. Obama’s ride from the airport spoke to the city’s troubled past. Lining the president’s motorcade route, which also passed the headquarters of Ford Motor Company, were boarded-up houses, storefronts and factories.
December 10, 2012Obama Approves Health Insurance Marketplaces in 6 States
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration gave conditional approval on Monday to health insurance marketplaces being set up by six states led by Democratic governors eager to carry out President Obama’s health care overhaul.
The six are Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington.
At the same time, the administration rejected pleas from other states that want to carry out a partial expansion of Medicaid, to cover fewer people than the president and Congress originally intended. Some states want to expand Medicaid to cover childless adults with incomes up to the poverty level, $19,090 for a family of three.
But Cindy Mann, the top federal Medicaid official, said the federal government would pay the full cost of newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries only if a state raised the threshold to 133 percent of the poverty level — or 138 percent, with an adjustment allowed by federal law. This would guarantee Medicaid coverage for a family of three with income less than or equal to $26,340.
Matt D. Salo, the executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, which represents state officials, summarized the administration’s position this way: “No partial expansion of Medicaid. No phased-in expansion. It’s all or nothing.”
In upholding the health care law in June, the Supreme Court said the expansion of Medicaid was an option for states, not a requirement as Mr. Obama had argued. Still, the White House says the expansion would be a good deal for states because the federal government would pay the entire cost of Medicaid for newly eligible beneficiaries from 2014 to 2016 and then 90 percent or more of the costs in later years.
Republican governors expressed disappointment. “The Obama administration’s refusal to grant states more flexibility on Medicaid is as disheartening as it is shortsighted,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
The White House policy, he said, “will make a state’s decision on Medicaid expansion more difficult.”
In a letter last week, Mr. Jindal and 10 other Republican governors asked Mr. Obama to meet with them to discuss Medicaid.
Dr. Bruce Siegel, the president of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, praised the administration’s decision on Medicaid, saying it was consistent with the letter and spirit of the law, “to expand health care coverage as broadly as possible.”
The administration announced its policies in answering questions that state officials had asked about the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of online supermarkets known as health insurance exchanges.
Starting in 2014, the federal government will require most Americans to have health insurance, and it will offer financial assistance to millions of people to help them pay premiums.
Friday is the deadline for states to tell the federal government whether they intend to establish their own insurance exchanges. Federal officials will create and operate an exchange in any state that is unable or unwilling to do so.
Gary M. Cohen, a federal health official, said the federal government had received applications from 14 states that wanted to run their own exchanges. These include the six tentatively approved on Monday.
State legislators and governors of both parties say they cannot afford the Medicaid programs they have now, and they express two concerns about expanding the program.
First, they say many uninsured people already eligible for Medicaid will apply for coverage in 2014 and later years. For those beneficiaries, the federal government will pay its standard share of the costs, averaging 57 percent — not the 100 percent allowed for people who become newly eligible under the Affordable Care Act.
In addition, state officials fear that Mr. Obama and Congress will reduce federal Medicaid payments to states as part of a deal to cut the federal budget deficit.
On Monday, the administration repudiated a proposal for Medicaid savings that Mr. Obama made in 2011 and repeated in his budget request this year. The proposal would reduce the federal share of payments to health care providers treating low-income people under Medicaid.
Such a reduction could shift costs to states and reduce the likelihood of their expanding Medicaid. In negotiations with the White House, Congressional Republicans have demanded savings in Medicare and Medicaid.
Abby Goodnough contributed reporting.
************Michigan prepares for mass protests against right-to-work legislation
By Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian
Monday, December 10, 2012 20:10 EST
Union leaders in Michigan have been training members in “peaceful civil disobedience” methods in preparation for a protest on Tuesday against controversial right-to-work legislation.
Supporters of the law, which among other measures would prohibit unions from collecting fees from non-union workers, are also expected to demonstrate at the state capitol in Lansing.
The Republican-dominated Michigan Senate voted the right-to-work bill on Thursday by 22 votes to 16. Governor Rick Synder has said he will sign the bill into law and could do so on Tuesday.
The Teamsters union, which helped host the training sessions at the weekend, said hundreds of people are “ready to get arrested” in the push against right-to-work legislation.
Union officials said the mass demonstration outside the capitol would be accompanied by flash mobs, rallies and news conferences throughout the day.
Barack Obama, who reiterated his opposition to right-to-work laws on Thursday, was due in Michigan on Monday as he presses his case for fiscal cliff negotiations to result in tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans. It is not known if Obama will discuss Michigan’s right-to-work status, but last week White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said the president “continues to oppose” the law.
“The president believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights,” Lehrich said. “Michigan – and its workers’ role in the revival of the US automobile industry – is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy.”
Eight people were arrested at the Capitol on Thursday as state senators voted on the legislation. Police said the arrests came after some of the crowd had attempted to rush into the Senate. Officers used pepper spray on some of the protesters.
Opponents of the right-to-work laws said the bills ad been rushed through the legislature. Democrats said Republicans had wanted to act to pass the law before a new Senate takes office next month – when the Republican majority will be weakened as the party lost five House seats in the November elections.
Should the bills be signed into law on Tuesday Michigan will become the 24th state to introduce right-to-work legislation. Unions argue that wages in right-to-work states are lower than those which do not have the legislation. In February last year a study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that wages in right-to-work states are on average 3.2% lower than states without it.
The right to work legislation in Michigan is made up of three bills – Senate bill 116 and two House bills, 4003 and 4054.
The legislation would make it illegal for workers to be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, which Republicans say would attract more jobs.
Opponents of the law say that the bill can lead to a “free rider” problem, where workers do not pay union fees yet still get the benefits of collective bargaining by the union, funded by members. Democrats have criticised the legislation as existing to curb the power of the unions and reduce their influence.
Neighbouring Indiana passed its own right-to-work law earlier this year, becoming the first rust-belt state to back the law. Previously most of the right-to-work states had been in the south.
More than 3,000 people have signed up to a Facebook event created for Tuesday’s protests on Facebook, with attendees being encouraged to wear red to show their opposition to the legislation. On Monday the Michigan branch of National Nurses United protested outside the building, with members fixing tape over their mouth.
“Nurses are outraged at Gov Snyder’s war on workers, knowing that the wounds he is inflicting on our state will hurt for decades to come,” said Katie Oppenheim, a registered nurse from Ann Arbor.
“Our union is our voice in the workplace, and nurses use that voice every single day to keep patients safe against corporations that only care about their profits. Gov Snyder and CEOs are using ‘Right to Work’ to shut workers up, pure and simple.”
The NNA will be among several unions with a presence in Lansing on Tuesday. Last week protesters received a boost when the NFL Players Association came out against right to work.
“We stood up against this in the past, and we stand against it in its current form in Michigan,” George Atallah, the association’s assistant executive director for external affairs, told ThinkProgress. “Our leadership and players are always proud to stand with workers in Michigan and everywhere else. We don’t think voters chose this, and we don’t think workers deserve this.”
Michigan state police posted the rules of the state capitol over the weekend and said it would be strictly enforcing the guidelines, which say action should not interfere with a legislative session or threaten the safety of those who work at the capitol. Streets will be closed to traffic around the building on Tuesday morning in anticipation of large numbers of protesters.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
December 10, 2012Michigan Labor Fight Cleaves a Union Bulwark
By MONICA DAVEY
LANSING, Mich. — With Democratic furor escalating and party leaders warning that Michigan was about to be plunged into lasting political discord, the state’s Republican-led Legislature was on the verge of approving new limits to unions here in the birthplace of the modern labor movement.
Republicans said they intended to cast final votes as early as Tuesday on legislation abruptly announced last week that would bar workers from being required to pay union fees as a condition of employment, even as thousands of union members planned to protest at the state Capitol and as President Obama, visiting a truck factory outside Detroit, denounced the notion.
“You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have to do with economics,” Mr. Obama said. “They have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
From a distance, there would seem no more unlikely a target for this fight than Michigan, where labor, hoping to demonstrate strength after a series of setbacks, asked voters last month to enshrine collective bargaining into the state Constitution.
But that ballot measure failed badly, and suddenly a reverse drive was under way that has brought the state to a moment startling in its symbolism. How the home of the United Automobile Workers finds itself close to becoming the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees — and only the second state to pass such legislation in a decade — is the latest chapter in a larger battle over the role of unions in the nation’s midsection.
It is a reflection of mounting tension between labor leaders and Michigan Republicans who took control of the state two years ago, and the result of a change of position by Gov. Rick Snyder, a political novice who had long avoided the issue because, he had said, it was too divisive. It is also an effort being closely watched — and fueled, labor leaders say — by national conservative groups who see the outcome in Michigan as an emblem for similar measures in other states with far thinner union histories.
“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” said Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”
Since the wave of Republican wins in 2010 in statehouses in the Midwest, campaigns to limit unions have boiled over in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere. But in Michigan, where Republicans also won control, those efforts had seemed more muted, with some in the party, including Mr. Snyder, shying away from the broadest, most sweeping measures.
“When you’re proposing to make changes of this magnitude in a culture that’s steeped in a long legacy involving labor, it’s going to take a long time to communicate with and educate people,” said Mike Shirkey, a Republican state representative.
Supporters of such a limit on unions, which is already the law in many in Southern and Western states, say it grants workers freedom and attracts new businesses to the state. Detractors say it lowers workers’ salaries and weakens unions. Indiana passed such a law this year, the first new state to do so since 2001.
Mr. Snyder, an accountant and venture capitalist in his first term as governor, prided himself on avoiding partisan labels and said over and over that a “right-to-work” measure was not on his agenda. “This is not Wisconsin,” Mr. Snyder told a group of union members last year as a battle over limits to collective bargaining raged in Madison.
Still, labor leaders complained that Mr. Snyder and lawmakers were harming unions in other ways: trying to prevent school districts from deducting dues from paychecks, for instance, and allowing state-appointed managers to toss out union contracts in the most financially troubled cities. Labor leaders went on the offensive, proposing the unusual ballot measure to enshrine collective bargaining rights into the state Constitution, a move Mr. Snyder opposed.
As it has throughout the country, membership in unions has fallen here in recent decades — about 17.5 percent of Michigan residents are members — and the statewide ballot proposal failed by 14 percentage points on Nov. 6 even as Mr. Obama won the state.
Not long after the election, lawmakers here say, private conversations began anew about the possibility of a law limiting unions while Republicans held a larger majority in the State House than they will come January when newly elected members are seated. Some labor leaders contended the move was retribution for the ballot measure.
But Republicans said they viewed the outcome of the election as merely a sign that public opinion had shifted, and that the timing might now be right. “Business people are absolutely ecstatic with this possibility for Michigan,” said Dick DeVos, a former Republican candidate for governor. “They share my view that there was no single initiative from a business perspective that would be more powerful to put a sign out — open for business in Michigan.”
Not long after Thanksgiving, as word spread of an effort to ban mandatory union contributions, labor leaders began holding meetings with Mr. Snyder, his aides and lawmakers. The labor leaders said they believed the talks had been going along productively until last week.
“Then, suddenly we’re told that this thing is on the governor’s agenda now after all, and here we are,” said Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association. Bob King, the president of the U.A.W., who took part in the talks, said he believed Mr. Snyder was eventually “overwhelmed by pressure from right-wing sources.”
Mr. Snyder announced Thursday that he would sign a package of bills blocking mandatory payments to unions by private and most public workers, and he urged lawmakers to move it through their chambers within days. Of suggestions that he had bent to pressure from the right, a spokeswoman for Mr. Snyder said: “The governor doesn’t make decisions based on ‘pressure.’ Period.”
In an interview, explaining his decision, Mr. Snyder said the issue “wasn’t going to go away.”
“And my view was since it’s here, it’s better to be proactive to show leadership, to say O.K., let’s address the issue, let’s come out with a conclusion, a resolution, and then let’s do something about it and then move forward.”
But on Monday, Democrats in Michigan’s Congressional delegation, who met with Mr. Snyder urging him to veto the package, said moving forward appeared unlikely. Some union members were already suggesting recall efforts against Republicans, while other people called for lawsuits to block the legislation or a ballot initiative to bring the issue before voters. Still others appeared already to be gearing up for election fights in 2014.
“We’re hearing from people around the country asking what in the world is happening in Michigan,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat. “The governor had said he didn’t want to be to become Wisconsin. Well, this is Wisconsin — and worse, because we’re the place, frankly, where the middle class began.”
Mark Landler contributed reporting from Redford, Mich.
December 11, 2012 07:00 AMObama: Michigan Anti-Union Law Means Right To Work For Less
By Susie Madrak
Via Raw Story, President Obama really slammed the union-busting laws rammed through the law duck session in Michigan, calling it a "right to work for less money":
President Barack Obama traveled to Michigan on Monday where he said a controversial anti-union “right to work” law passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature last week really meant that workers had a “right to work for less money.”
“What we shouldn’t be doing is taking away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions,” Obama told a crowd of supporters at a Daimler AG plant in Redford. “These so-called right to work laws, they don’t have anything to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics.”
“What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money,” he added. “America’s not going to compete based on low skill, low wage, no workers rights. That’s not our competitive advantage. There’s always going to be some other country that can treat its workers even worse.”
“So, we’ve got to get passed this whole situation were we manufacture crises because of politics. That actually leads to less certainty, more conflict and we can’t all focus on coming together to grow.”
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and other Democratic lawmakers met with Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Monday and encouraged him to veto the right to work legislation, although he had already vowed to sign it
click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=s32HFwcaVQU
************Soledad grills Jeff Sessions: ‘You hurt people who need food’ with food stamp cuts
By David Edwards
Tuesday, December 11, 2012 9:27 EST
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on Tuesday faced tough questions from CNN host Soledad O’Brien for his plan to cut the food stamp program and “hurt people who need food,” including 20 percent of his own constituents in Alabama.
Speaking to Sessions in an interview on CNN’s Starting Point, O’Brien wondered if cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be on the table as part of the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations.
“Absolutely,” Sessions insisted. “This month was a record increase in food stamp participation at a time when unemployment is declining.”
“But there are people who say if you’re doing cuts, you invariably hurt people who need food,” O’Brien observed. “It’s 61 percent of households in your state have children who are recipients of the food program that they’re on.”
“Soledad, this program has been growing out of control at an incredible rate and there are a lot of people receiving benefits who do not qualify and should not receive them,” Sessions remarked. “No child, no person who needs food should be denied that food. Nobody proposes that. We are talking about an amendment that I offered that would have reduced and closed a loophole of $8 billion when we would spend $800 billion was opposed by saying it would help — it would leave people hungry in America, but it would have only eliminated abuses in the program.”
The CNN host, however, pointed out that the Alabama Republican had voted twice to grow the program and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities had determined that “SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program.”
“People highlight the program as actually not having a lot of fraud,” O’Brien explained. “Most people who are on it are not somehow working the system. They’re just hungry people.”
“That’s not accurate,” Sessions replied. “They’re counting the computer system fraud error rate, but they’re not out counting the real people who are filing false incomes or haven’t reported changes in their income.”
O’Brien continued to press Sessions, noting that “the problem could be in the reverse” because less than 70 percent of the people who qualify for food stamps were using the program.
“I guess when you are thinking of things to cut, people basically say, why are you trying to balance the budget on people who are making under $23,000 a year?” she asked. “I think that range, roughly, is the national average for what a family of four would get on food stamps. So, why not cut something else? There are other things that could be on the table before you pick a program that is feeding the nations poor children.”
“I say all programs need to be examined in this government,” Sessions shot back. “This government is wasting money every day. There is no doubt about that. And food stamps is a program that was totally exempted from any oversight when it has gone up four times in the last ten years in the amount we spend.”
“Two of those times you voted for it, sir!” O’Brien interrupted. “Some people would say it’s growing because people are hurting.”
“I voted for the [agriculture] bill that had that in it, probably so,” Sessions shrugged.
***********HSBC to pay $1.9 billion to settle money laundering claims: report
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 10, 2012 20:19 EST
US authorities plan to announce a record $1.9 billion settlement with British bank HSBC to end allegations of money laundering, The Wall Street Journal reported on its website.
The deal could be announced as early as Tuesday in New York, officials told the Journal.
Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal said that the figure includes nearly $1.3 billion, a record amount for a bank, as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.
The London-based bank also would pay a civil fine of more than $650 million, according to people briefed on the issue, the newspaper said.
US lawmakers have accused the global bank of giving Iran, terrorists and drug dealers access to the US financial system.
Criminal investigators have been pursuing some of the same allegations highlighted in the Senate probe, the Journal noted.
HSBC in July admitted to poor anti-laundering controls.
The settlement would resolve investigations by the Justice and Treasury departments and other federal agencies, as well as the Manhattan district attorney.
As part of the HSBC settlement deal, the Journal said, citing a government official, it will admit to violating the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act.
The US Treasury declined to comment on the Journal report.
In early November HSBC said it had increased the amount set aside for fines linked to money-laundering in the United States to $1.5 billion.
The Journal report came the same day the US Treasury announced that another British bank, Standard Chartered, would pay $327 million to settle charges it violated US sanctions on Iran, Myanmar, Libya and Sudan.
For Standard Chartered, the fines from the Treasury and other US federal and local regulators brought to $667 million the total it has been charged for sanctions violations.
**************U.S. to launch military space drone on Tuesday
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 10, 2012 20:16 EST
The United States is planning a new launch of its tiny, pilotless military space plane on Tuesday as part of a futuristic Air Force program that has fueled speculation over its mission.
The X-37B, which weighs five tonnes and is 29 feet (8.9 meters) long, can return material to Earth in the way of the retired shuttle Orbiter program but is designed to stay in orbit for much longer at 270 days.
The last X-37B returned in June after orbiting for 469 days in a test of endurance.
The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, approved the X-37B at Cape Canaveral in Florida after finding no danger following an anomaly during a separate launch two months ago.
The company said in a statement that a Global Positioning System satellite was put into orbit as expected on October 4 but that a fuel leak took place inside the thrust chamber, triggering an investigation.
Patrick Air Force Base gave notice of a hazard from a launch between 10:45 am to 5:15 pm (1545 to 2215 GMT) on Tuesday.
Authorities have said little more about the X-37B. An Air Force fact sheet described it as “experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force.”
The secretive nature of the equipment on the X-37B has led to speculation in the media over its true nature, with some experts saying it could eventually be designed to tamper with satellites from rival nations.
China in 2007 became the first nation after the United States and the former Soviet Union to shoot down one of its own satellites, in a test seen in Washington as a sign of the rising power’s ambitions in space.
The X-37B project was launched by the space agency NASA in 1999 before being adopted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which designs new technologies for the US military.
December 10, 2012Drought and Economy Plague Sheep Farmers
By JACK HEALY
SEVERANCE, Colo. — Since he was a boy in western Colorado, John Bartmann seemed destined to become a sheep man. He raised lambs with the local 4-H club and sheared them for elderly German farmers. His office is lined with paintings of sheep and a plaque honoring him for “promoting culinary excellence” in lambs.
But over the last few years, skyrocketing costs, a brutal drought and plunging lamb prices have battered Mr. Bartmann and the 80,000 ranchers across the county who raise sheep — from a few to several thousand. It is the latest threat to shadow a Western way of life that still relies on the whims of summer rains, lonely immigrant sheep herders and old grazing trails into the mountains.
“For the sheep industry, it’s the perfect storm,” Mr. Bartmann said, glancing out his office window here at a bleating sea of wool. “The money is just not there.”
Many ranchers are laying off employees, cutting their flocks and selling at a loss, and industry groups said a handful had abandoned the business entirely. Mr. Bartmann has trimmed his flock of 2,000 by one-third. With prices down more than half since last year and higher costs for gasoline and corn, Mr. Bartmann said he expected to lose about $100 for every lamb he sold.
“Even in the good years, you don’t make that much money,” he said. “We can’t take that kind of hit.”
Weather and economics take big shares of the blame. The drought withered grazing grounds, killed off young lambs and dried up irrigation ditches, and a glut of meat and imported lambs from New Zealand helped send prices plummeting.
But some ranchers and officials in Washington believe that the deck was stacked against the sheep ranchers by the small number of powerful feedlots that buy lambs, slaughter them and sell them to grocery stores and restaurants. Even as prices farmers received fell to 85 cents a pound, consumers at supermarkets were paying $7 or more a pound for the same meat.
As cows, pigs, sheep and other animals make their doomed way from the range to kitchen tables, many of them end up in a matrix of feedlots, slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities where a few companies control a vast share of the market. The top four companies control about 65 percent of the market for lamb and as much as 85 percent of the market for cows.
That kind of concentration makes it easier for a few powerful companies to manipulate prices to their advantage, said Patrick Woodall, the research director at Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group.
This fall, several Western senators and ranchers’ groups wrote to the Agriculture Department saying they suspected that meatpackers had been hoarding sheep in feedlots and keeping prices artificially low. The agency that oversees stockyards said it would investigate.
“We’re going to force a lot of people in the lamb industry out of that business,” said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “You want competition that’s fair. If you have manipulation, that’s a whole different story.”
In Kaycee, Wyo., Lisa Cunningham said she and other sheep ranchers watched with astonishment as their prices soared and then crashed over the course of the last two years. Ms. Cunningham said she was lucky to get $1 a pound for young lambs, down from more than $2.
“You can’t hardly get anyone to buy your lamb,” she said.
Still, even some sheep ranchers do not blame the packers and say they believe that the declines are related to shifts in the market.
Federal insurance has helped blunt the blow, as have government programs to buy lamb from struggling ranchers.
It is the latest twist in a brutal year for thousands of farmers and ranchers across the country. In a slow-motion disaster, a drought covering more than 60 percent of the country scorched corn stalks into parchment, dried up irrigation ponds and turned farm fields into brittle crust. Farmers begged local governments to let them tap aquifers. Scores of ranchers dumped their livestock at drought auctions.
Farmers say they are still paying near-record prices for corn and hay to feed their livestock through the winter. And if abundant snows do not come to replenish streams and coax new grass from the ground, they worry that next summer could be even worse than last.
“The drought plays into everything,” said Fred Roberts, a sheep rancher in Rock Springs, Wyo. “We have absolutely no feed. We’re feeding as much corn to the sheep as they can eat, and you can imagine how expensive that is. Nothing grew here last year.”
Here in the northern Colorado town of Severance, Mr. Bartmann, a man with a Wyatt Earp mustache and a master’s degree in animal production, spends his days managing a lamb feedlot increasingly surrounded by high-end ranch subdivisions.
Even before “the wreck” in prices, he said, his business had been growing increasingly tenuous. A few years ago, he lost big areas of grazing land because it was declared potential habitat for wild bighorn sheep. The summer drought claimed even more grassland. Now, many of his sheep are spending the winter on a Kansas feedlot. A few hundred others are here, munching hay under gray skies. Mr. Bartmann climbed into a battered pickup truck to check on them one recent morning, unsure what the next season would bring.
“It just keeps pulling everything down,” he said. “After a while, you say it isn’t worth it.”
December 9, 2012In Girl’s Last Hope, Altered Immune Cells Beat Leukemia
By DENISE GRADY
PHILIPSBURG, Pa. — Emma Whitehead has been bounding around the house lately, practicing somersaults and rugby-style tumbles that make her parents wince.
It is hard to believe, but last spring Emma, then 6, was near death from leukemia. She had relapsed twice after chemotherapy, and doctors had run out of options.
Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma’s immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.
The treatment very nearly killed her. But she emerged from it cancer-free, and about seven months later is still in complete remission. She is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal — giving a patient’s own immune system the lasting ability to fight cancer.
Emma had been ill with acute lymphoblastic leukemia since 2010, when she was 5, said her parents, Kari and Tom. She is their only child.
She is among just a dozen patients with advanced leukemia to have received the experimental treatment, which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania. Similar approaches are also being tried at other centers, including the National Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“Our goal is to have a cure, but we can’t say that word,” said Dr. Carl June, who leads the research team at the University of Pennsylvania. He hopes the new treatment will eventually replace bone-marrow transplantation, an even more arduous, risky and expensive procedure that is now the last hope when other treatments fail in leukemia and related diseases.
Three adults with chronic leukemia treated at the University of Pennsylvania have also had complete remissions, with no signs of disease; two of them have been well for more than two years, said Dr. David Porter. Four adults improved but did not have full remissions, and one was treated too recently to evaluate. A child improved and then relapsed. In two adults, the treatment did not work at all. The Pennsylvania researchers were presenting their results on Sunday and Monday in Atlanta at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology.
Despite the mixed results, cancer experts not involved with the research say it has tremendous promise, because even in this early phase of testing it has worked in seemingly hopeless cases. “I think this is a major breakthrough,” said Dr. Ivan Borrello, a cancer expert and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Dr. John Wagner, the director of pediatric blood and marrow transplantation at the University of Minnesota, called the Pennsylvania results “phenomenal” and said they were “what we’ve all been working and hoping for but not seeing to this extent.”
A major drug company, Novartis, is betting on the Pennsylvania team and has committed $20 million to building a research center on the university’s campus to bring the treatment to market.
Hervé Hoppenot, the president of Novartis Oncology, called the research “fantastic” and said it had the potential — if the early results held up — to revolutionize the treatment of leukemia and related blood cancers. Researchers say the same approach, reprogramming the patient’s immune system, may also eventually be used against tumors like breast and prostate cancer.
To perform the treatment, doctors remove millions of the patient’s T-cells — a type of white blood cell — and insert new genes that enable the T-cells to kill cancer cells. The technique employs a disabled form of H.I.V. because it is very good at carrying genetic material into T-cells. The new genes program the T-cells to attack B-cells, a normal part of the immune system that turn malignant in leukemia.
The altered T-cells — called chimeric antigen receptor cells — are then dripped back into the patient’s veins, and if all goes well they multiply and start destroying the cancer.
The T-cells home in on a protein called CD-19 that is found on the surface of most B-cells, whether they are healthy or malignant.
A sign that the treatment is working is that the patient becomes terribly ill, with raging fevers and chills — a reaction that oncologists call “shake and bake,” Dr. June said. Its medical name is cytokine-release syndrome, or cytokine storm, referring to the natural chemicals that pour out of cells in the immune system as they are being activated, causing fevers and other symptoms. The storm can also flood the lungs and cause perilous drops in blood pressure — effects that nearly killed Emma.
Steroids sometimes ease the reaction, but they did not help Emma. Her temperature hit 105. She wound up on a ventilator, unconscious and swollen almost beyond recognition, surrounded by friends and family who had come to say goodbye.
But at the 11th hour, a battery of blood tests gave the researchers a clue as to what might help save Emma: her level of one of the cytokines, interleukin-6 or IL-6, had shot up a thousandfold. Doctors had never seen such a spike before and thought it might be what was making her so sick.
Dr. June knew that a drug could lower IL-6 — his daughter takes it for rheumatoid arthritis. It had never been used for a crisis like Emma’s, but there was little to lose. Her oncologist, Dr. Stephan A. Grupp, ordered the drug. The response, he said, was “amazing.”
Within hours, Emma began to stabilize. She woke up a week later, on May 2, the day she turned 7; the intensive-care staff sang “Happy Birthday.”
Since then, the research team has used the same drug, tocilizumab, in several other patients.
In patients with lasting remissions after the treatment, the altered T-cells persist in the bloodstream, though in smaller numbers than when they were fighting the disease. Some patients have had the cells for years.
Dr. Michel Sadelain, who conducts similar studies at the Sloan-Kettering Institute, said: “These T-cells are living drugs. With a pill, you take it, it’s eliminated from your body and you have to take it again.” But T-cells, he said, “could potentially be given only once, maybe only once or twice or three times.”
The Pennsylvania researchers said they were surprised to find any big drug company interested in their work, because a new batch of T-cells must be created for each patient — a far cry from the familiar commercial strategy of developing products like Viagra or cholesterol medicines, in which millions of people take the same drug.
But Mr. Hoppenot said Novartis was taking a different path with cancer drugs, looking for treatments that would have a big, unmistakable impact on a small number of patients. Such home-run drugs can be approved more quickly and efficiently, he said, with smaller studies than are needed for drugs with less obvious benefits.
“The economic model is totally acceptable,” Mr. Hoppenot said.
But such drugs tend to be extremely expensive. A prime example is the Novartis drug Gleevec, which won rapid approval in 2001 for use against certain types of leukemia and gastrointestinal tumors. It can cost more than $5,000 a month, depending on the dosage.
Dr. June said that producing engineered T-cells costs about $20,000 per patient — far less than the cost of a bone-marrow transplant. Scaling up the procedure should make it even less expensive, he said, but he added, “Our costs do not include any profit margin, facility depreciation costs or other clinical care costs, and other research costs.”
The research is still in its early stages, and many questions remain. The researchers are not entirely sure why the treatment works, or why it sometimes fails. One patient had a remission after being treated only twice, and even then the reaction was so delayed that it took the researchers by surprise. For the patients who had no response whatsoever, the team suspects a flawed batch of T-cells. The child who had a temporary remission apparently relapsed because not all of her leukemic cells had the marker that was targeted by the altered T-cells.
It is not clear whether a patient’s body needs the altered T-cells forever. The cells do have a drawback: they destroy healthy B-cells as well as cancerous ones, leaving patients vulnerable to certain types of infections, so Emma and the other patients need regular treatments with immune globulins to prevent illness.
So far, her parents say, Emma seems to have taken it all in stride. She went back to school this year with her second-grade classmates, and though her grades are high and she reads about 50 books a month, she insists impishly that her favorite subjects are lunch and recess.
“It’s time for her to be a kid again and get her childhood back,” Mr. Whitehead said.